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Biden, Democrats Just Can’t Help Themselves As They Politicize Coronavirus Crisis

James Murphy by in Politics on
  • Donald Trump’s handling of the Coronavirus crisis has been very weak.
  • Joe Biden and the Democratic Party had a perfect opportunity to demonstrate true leadership.
  • Instead,the Democratic Party has shamelessly tried to exploit the situation for political gain.

“Donald Trump is the most tone deaf politician in the US”–Me, yesterday

“Hold my beer….”–Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Congressional Democrats

That sure didn’t take long. Yesterday morning I wrote a lengthy post on Donald Trump’s horrific speech on Coronavirus and the ensuing self inflicted political damage. The takeaway was that Trump’s miserable leadership (or lack thereof) had presented Joe Biden and the Democratic Party a new lease on life in their efforts to regain the White House. That was followed with a very significant caveat (emphasis added).

It’s not all good news for the Democrats. Trump might be reeling at the moment but they have to be extremely careful to not appear to be exploiting the Coronavirus crisis for political gain. Trump can still turn this around which could also reverse the odds movement. Biden still has to deal with Bernie Sanders–instead of focusing on doing his part to defeat Trump the Vermont Senator is putting his ego first and continuing his campaign. This costs the party time, money and other resources they could otherwise devote to the general election.

Political types of both brands never cease to amaze me. Their self absorbed hubris simply knows no bounds. Wednesday’s speech was arguably the most important of Trump’s Presidency. It was certainly a golden opportunity to show strong leadership and send a message that the well being of the American people in a time of uncertainty took precedent over petty partisanship. Trump whiffed completely and based on the reaction of the financial markets his address to the nation and xenophobic European travel ban did more harm than good.

Trump had served up a high hanging curveball for Joe Biden and Congressional Democrats. That made Thursday extremely important for their chances to regain the White House. All they had to do was to at least pretend to be conciliatory toward Trump for the good of the American people. They couldn’t do it and their continual blundering throughout Thursday’s business day news cycle was almost as pitiful as Trump’s speech.

JOE BIDEN’S BONEHEADED RESPONSE

Joe Biden had one job to do–or not do, as the case may be. He had to ‘look Presidential’ and not look like he was actively campaigning during a time of crisis and uncertainty. Here’s what I said about Biden yesterday:

And then there’s Biden himself. On balance, the best thing for him to do might be ‘nothing’. He doesn’t want to look like he’s campaigning hard while the White House struggles with a tough situation. In fact, it probably wouldn’t hurt him to announce that he’s suspending his campaign altogether. This would send a message that his priority is the well being of the American people and also serve to marginalize Sanders. He could even pull out of the next debate on Saturday night–best case scenario for him would be Sanders on stage by himself in an empty auditorium ranting like a loon. The optics of that would further damage Sanders’ campaign more than anything Biden could say or do. Biden should just appear calm, cool and collected while sending a message that his focus is on helping the President and his colleagues in both parties to deal with the Coronavirus situation.

Biden had a wide range of responses. He could have demonstrated some serious leadership in this situation. Just imagine if he made a statement that went something like this:

“Today I called President Trump to offer him whatever assistance I might be able to provide during this unprecedented crisis. In a situation such as this ideology and party affiliation takes a back seat to our duty as Americans to care for each other. At a time like this, politics simply isn’t important.”

He couldn’t do it. Instead, he did the worst thing he could do–he treated an unprecedented crisis like just another divisive issue and gave an unfocused 15 minute speech outlining *his* plan for dealing with the Coronovirus crisis. Here’s how CNBC described it:

“Unfortunately this virus laid bare the severe shortcomings of the current administration,” Biden said in front of American flags at an event in Wilmington, Delaware. “Public fears are being compounded by pervasive lack of trust in this president.”

Biden is absolutely correct but shot himself in the foot anyway. He didn’t *need* to say anything. Public reaction, the complete shutdown of college and pro sports and the implosion of the financial markets made the case for him. Of course, once Biden made his statement it meant that Bernie Sanders had to come up with a statement of his own. At least Biden’s ‘plan’ was an effort to proactively address the situation. Sanders shamelessly used the crisis to advance his tired agenda. CNBC once again:

He said “everyone in our country regardless of income or where they live must be able to get all of the health care that they need without cost.” He called for free coronavirus tests, emergency funds for paid family and medical leave, unemployment assistance to people who lose their jobs due to the crisis and a moratorium on evictions and utility shutoffs for people unable to cover their bills.

Biden had a perfect opportunity to ‘look Presidential’ and to marginalize Sanders’ floundering campaign. Instead, his response made him look like just another political hack as he lowered himself to Sanders’ level. This was an opportunity for Biden to demonstrate leadership and he couldn’t do it. It was an opportunity to demonstrate a distinction between him and Trump. Instead, both Biden and Sanders demonstrated that political power and partisanship was more important to them than acting like adults in a time of national crisis. They got in a few zingers that no doubt drew huzzahs from their true believers but did significant damage to their chances of drawing in ‘undecided voters’.

CONGRESSIONAL DEMOCRATS PRIORITIZE AGENDA

As hard as it is to believe, Congressional Democrats managed to look even worse than Biden and Sanders. Here’s what I said about them yesterday:

Democrats in Congress could also screw things up for Biden. They haven’t exactly distinguished themselves with their leadership either and there’s a profound risk of appearing ‘obstructionist’ and blocking Trump’s proposals to mitigate the impact of the situation. It’s debatable if the payroll tax cut that Trump proposed earlier in the week was a good idea but the way the Democrats in Congress summarily dismissed the idea was a very bad look. This is not the time to offer a ‘competing agenda’. The Democratic leadership in Congress needs to act conciliatory and co-operative even if they don’t mean it. Anything that can be perceived as politicizing the Coronavirus situation could really hurt their chances to take the White House.

Spoiler alert–that’s exactly what they did. They offered a ‘competing agenda’ of sorts but instead of addressing the current crisis they packed it full of completely unrelated mandates that have “little relevance to addressing coronavirus and much more to do with leveraging the crisis to prop up policies popular within the Democratic Party.”

To be fair, at least one Republican had an even dumber response. The prize for the dumbest response so far goes to Arkansas Republican Tom Cotton who thinks we should get some ‘revenge’ on China. Here’s how REASON magazine explained it:

Democrats aren’t the only ones using this moment to further their party’s political profile. Take Sen. Tom Cotton (R–Ark.), for example, who issued a press release this morning to avow revenge on “those who inflicted [coronavirus] on the world.” He later clarified that he meant China, though what he will do to punish the country for getting sick is still ambiguous.

REASON summed it up perfectly:

“Trump isn’t about people dying, Pelosi is about “putting families first.” I’m sure both of them would like to stem this crisis, but right now they seem all too concerned with scoring political points.”

SO WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN?

It means that Biden and the Democrats blew what might be their best opportunity to re-take the White House. Here’s my updated odds:

ODDS TO WIN THE 2020 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

Donald Trump                           -130
Joe Biden                              +110

The major UK sportsbooks have had similar odds movement. Trump is still a shorter favorite than he was a week ago but he’s back to being a -120 to -125 favorite. On the other hand, Predictit now has Biden at 48 cents to win the Presidency with Trump at 44 cents. The problem with US facing sportsbooks and/or prediction markets is their numbers are slightly tinged with some partisan ‘wishful thinking’. That’s why I consider the European numbers a more accurate and objective barometer of US politics.

Now the ball is back in Trump’s court. He simply can’t let the financial markets take a pounding tomorrow without some type of response. There’s still a chance he can turn this around with some decisive action. Assuming the Democrats continue to act like petty partisans looking to advance their political agenda he might start to look somewhat sympathetic.

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